We’ve probably all experienced, at one time or another, the excruciating tedium of being trapped by a conversational bore. Fed an unmitigated diet of long, rambling anecdotes that go nowhere, mini-lectures on subjects in which we have no interest, or yawn-inducing self-obsession, many of us will feel a tickle of self-doubt. Is it possible that we are also boring, and as blissfully unaware of our own dullness as the annoying person who is currently bending our ears?
The only way to find out is to conduct a quick self-appraisal, followed by a long, hard look at the body language of the people with whom we converse. Armed with self-awareness, we can crush any incipient signs of being a bore and need never stand accused of this solecism ever again.
Bores exhibit a range of traits that most of us will instantly recognise:
Bores don’t read social cues and will carry on talking even if they are confronted by the spectacle of their listeners yawning, fidgeting, looking at their watches and edging towards the exit. Their inability to recognise that their monotonous discourses are reducing their audience to a semi-catatonic state is a source of general frustration.
• Lack of focus
Bores are famous for their long-winded and circuitous discourse and for frequently backing themselves into conversational cul-de-sacs. They have no ability to self-edit, to pare down what they are trying to say so that they get quickly and directly to the point. They may start out telling a perfectly interesting anecdote, but will lose the plot half-way through, as they digress into irrelevant sub-plots, agonise over remembering a name they’ve forgotten, or insist on delivering short and irrelevant biographies of everybody they mention. Listeners soon find themselves maddened and frustrated by the lack of direction or purpose.
• A tendency to monologue
A sure sign of a bore is a complete lack of interest in other people and an obvious lack of willingness to engage with them. Their impetus is to control conversations through the power of monologue, and they have a propensity for speaking, uninterrupted, for unacceptably long periods. Interruptions or questions are not tolerated and there is no attempt to solicit other people’s opinions or reactions. Their conversation becomes a broadcast, rather than a dialogue, and is guaranteed to drive people away.
• Refusing to listen or ask questions
Another symptom of the tendency to monologue is a complete lack of interest in other people. Good conversations are interchanges; questions are batted back and forth and each participant shows a keen interest in everybody else. It’s only polite, and it is the cornerstone of successful socialising. It’s a sure sign that a bore has infiltrated your conversation when you notice that he or she has not asked a single question and does not appear to be listening to what is being said, merely waiting on the sidelines for an opportunity to interject and dominate.
Worrying too much about what other people think and being unwilling to really engage with conversational topics in case offence is caused is very boring. People who are unwilling to express any opinions and meet every idea or challenge with insipid responses like “whatever you think”, “I don’t really have an opinion” or “that seems like a good idea” will soon empty the room. For conversations to really flourish you need a little grit, argument, and tension. A refusal to make any waves means that conversation will soon wither and die.
While we can all bond over complaints and grumbling, and may find it very enjoyable to do so, relentless negativity grinds everybody down. When stalwart attempts to introduce levity or positivity into a conversation are met by a relentlessly grumpy and humourless bore, the assembled company will soon find the conversation dreary and thoroughly tedious and will do their best to escape.
If you have read all the above and are still not sure whether you are guilty of being a bore, then the best policy might be to open your eyes and keenly observe how other people behave when you are conversing. Boredom brings on a recognisable set of reactions and if you see evidence of ennui you might be able to take evasive action and inject some sparkle into your conversation. Being able to spot when people are bored will stand you in good stead both socially and professionally, so look out for the following signs:
• Perfunctory responses, frequently repeated
It’s not a good sign if a person with whom you are talking repeatedly says things like “oh really?”, “how interesting”. It’s a sure sign that they’re on conversational automatic pilot, probably induced by sensations of extreme boredom.
• Lack of eye contact
Inattentiveness is demonstrated by staring into space, allowing the eyes to swivel away from your face, or looking around the room with increasing desperation.
• A slumped posture
A listener who sits with the head supported by the palm, frequently with the eyes closed, or slips further and further down in the seat until nearly horizontal, is giving a clear demonstration of a sense of inertia and somnolence.
• Compulsive tapping
Jiggling and tapping of both the hands and feet is a sign of restlessness and tedium, probably indicating that somebody is feeling trapped.
When your companions (or audience) shift around restlessly in their seats, crossing and uncrossing legs, fiddling with nails or hair, they are displaying signs of discomfort. They can be symptoms of nervousness or boredom.
The most obvious sign of boredom, yawning is the clearest indication that you have reduced your audience to a state of eye-watering lethargy.
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